Beauty and the Beach

by Marcus Harrison Green

 The Beach needs more beauty.

Other than our country’s collective suicide by Trump, that’s been my mind’s prominent thought since returning from San Francisco’s Mission District to visit an old college friend last month.

Walking down the neighborhood’s Valencia Street, we stopped so I could admire a pocket park, or parklet, carved out in the sidewalk and bustling with the loud laughter of neighbors. 

Community members clumped around the compact public space as beer flowed; reggaeton music throbbed from wireless speakers, and generational and racial boundaries dissolved as full-bodied smiles were exchanged over friendly games of chess and Uno.

It’s only one of 51 parklets San Francisco used to revitalize its streetscapes, leading to activated sidewalks where neighbors actively engage with one another.  A feat that, in this increasingly atomized country, would make Jane Jacobs – its most famous urbanist – do cartwheels beyond the grave.

While Hillman City has recently added a parklet last year in front of Tin Umbrella Coffee, and has plans for another connected to the Hillman City Collaboratory, the majority of my life in South Seattle – specifically Rainier Beach – has been a parklet-less one.

It amounts to zero sense for an area that recently added a bike trail bordering a glimmering Lake Washington, a resurrected business district along 57th Avenue, and a still sparkling  3-year-old community center, to not have a dedicated outdoor space of our own where residents of the area, new and old, can coalesce.

Parklet rendering. [Image courtesy of Friends of Rainier Beach Streatery at Jude’s]
Thankfully, that may be changing extremely soon.

A group called “Friends of a Rainer Beach Streatery at Jude’s”, a collection of Beach-based community members, businesses, and organizations are in the midst of a fundraising campaign to bring a Streatery Parklet to Rainier Beach’s revitalized business district in front of Jude’s Old Town.

Their vision is of a bicycle/edible garden themed “Streatery” would be a compact outdoor eating area where bicyclists can relax with pitchers of cold beer under a verdant trellis, crafted from re-purposed bicycle parts, while artists can work on their latest masterwork portrait as they sip from strawberry lemonades.

While the concept may seem ho-hum to some, I view it as an essential building block of community in an area that continues to change.

Unity continues to be a pervasive narrative, and for good reason after last week’s events. However, we continue to have very few places for people to unify in the spirit of true community; meaning a dedicated space where every day interactions occur with passerbys you otherwise would have never engaged.

Can you ever have enough places where new and old faces in this community can mingle together, bridging misunderstandings of one another? Can you ever have enough places where unexpected friendships with people you lived a few blocks from, but never spoke to, can be birthed? Can you ever have enough places acting as a community’s sanctuary when the world’s thrown itself in chaos?

Personally I look forward to lazy Sundays watching the neighbors greet each other, as I look up from my copy of The Baffler; to see the richness of the multitude of ethnicities in my home neighborhood, hugging, laughing, and arguing over the weather Russell Wilson performs better on the field now that he’s an expectant father.  

All the while, some visitor from out of town, mumbles to herself, we need a place like this where I live.

Check out the Rainier Beach parklet campaign here